A few years ago, Lady Tumbleweed posted a video on her YouTube channel, which I recently spotted again, about how easy it was for drivers to find ways to exercise at truck stops. As a retired owner-operator, and now a professional dog trainer, that got me thinking about our canine copilots, who ride (and sit) for the same number of miles each day that we do. Are we meeting their exercise needs?
Since truckers often find themselves at unfamiliar locations that usually border roads and highways, exercise for their dogs is dangerous if not handled properly. A dog that gets loose and wanders is unable to easily find its way home, may be picked up as a stray (and the trucker may be forced to move on before locating the dog, or lose the job that feeds his/her family) or worse, the dog could enter a road/highway and be killed by a vehicle. Thus, in my opinion, all truckers’ dogs should be microchipped, and the owner’s info must kept updated in the chip company’s database. That way, animal control personnel, shelters, or veterinarians can get in touch, should the dog come to their facilities and be scanned.
Before starting an exercise regimen on the road, drivers need to do some preparation. Dogs must wear sturdy equipment they can’t wriggle out of, to which is affixed their identification tag and license. The best collar, in my opinion, for a truck dog, is a plain cloth martingale, or “limited slip” collar with the driver’s cell phone number embroidered on it. Martingales go on over the dog’s head, and are then adjusted for fit, so that they don’t choke the dog, but do prevent the dog from slipping out of the collar if he pulls backward.
In addition, because exercising is going to require that the dog be on a long leash, a non-chafing, no pull escape-proof harness is also recommended. To that, the training lead can then be attached. Training leads come in longer lengths than the one linked, or several can be tied together using a non-slip knot.
Now that the dog is outfitted, how do we exercise? One of the best ways is to just use the dog’s regular food (so no extra calories) to teach him to play a “find it” game. You can also use games to help build attention, too, so that your dog learns to want to stay with you, instead of running off, in the event that you ever accidentally drop the leash. Another exercise option, for dogs that like it, are fetch games with balls or discs, or even flirt poles.
For dogs whose environment is limited (a truck cab is a very small space, even if you love the person you’re riding with), mental stimulation is quite important, too. Puzzle feeders and toys are much better than plain old boring bowls! Only caveat – dogs need human supervision whenever they are playing with toys or puzzles. Training is also good for mental exercise, and has the added benefit of keeping your copilot safer, so you can enjoy many more miles together!